Believe me, when it comes to change, there’s not many people that despise it more than I do. For me, if something works and has proven to be reliable, I have trouble understanding the need to change it. That being said, my apprehension when it comes to a specific change goes completely out the window when an overwhelming amount of good can come from that change. Case in point, extending the protective netting at Major League ball parks in order to better protect spectators from foul balls and wayward bats.
When it comes to safety, whether it be with automobiles, sports, or what have you, it’s just part of our growth as a culture to constantly learn how to go about doing things in a safer way. This isn’t to say we’re a society that treats everything with kid gloves. It’s just that when it comes to changing certain things, we’re lagging a little behind, and its often because of the deeply rooted ways those things have traditionally been done.
Some people are going to complain and argue that no additional netting is necessary and that it’ll just obstruct their view of the game. These same people also think that fans who get hit by foul balls are at fault because they weren’t paying close enough attention to what was happening on the field. What these complainers need to understand though (in addition to looking up the word ’empathy’), is that at a ball game, there are going to be children, there are going to be old people, there are going to be friends chatting away with one another while sipping on cold ones. In other words, there are a good number of spectators, in fact probably the majority of them, who couldn’t catch a big league line drive to save their lives (literally).
For anyone who’s been to an NHL game, netting is a requirement at the ends and corners of each rink and you don’t even notice them unless a puck flies into it. In the Japanese professional baseball league, teams are required to have netting around the entire playing surface, with the exception of the area beyond the home run wall. Major League Baseball recommends that all big league parks have netting extend to at least the near side of the dugout. Which is what’s currently in place at Rogers Centre.
Several teams however, including the Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, and Washington Nationals have gone above and beyond Major League Baseball’s recommendation and extended their netting to the far end of the dugout. In the case of the New York Mets, they’ve actually extended their netting two sections beyond the far end of the dugout and have plans to extend to the foul poles to begin the 2018 season. There’s a quickly growing list of big league teams out there taking the initiative and installing more than the recommended netting, a list that will hopefully include every team in the league as soon as possible. Back in September it was reported that the Blue Jays would look into the possibility of more netting this off-season. Whether that results in additional netting come opening day on March 29, 2018 is still up in the air.
It’s unfortunate that so many decisions made by professional sports teams and leagues these days are financially driven. Major League organizations (including the Blue Jays) are afraid to extend nets because they fear it’ll take away from the fan experience and in turn decrease ticket sales.
Rogers Centre is a wonderful place to watch a ball game, and one of the things that’s always impressed me about that venue is how innovative a place it is. Whether it be it’s fully retractable roof, the Jumbotron, or having a hotel out in centerfield with rooms actually overlooking the field. For years, Rogers Centre has been a trailblazer for other stadiums across North America, a trend that needs to continue with progressive thinking on the part of the Blue Jays, and what better way to do that than to do the right thing and extend those protective nets.